Ypsilanti anticipates downtown growth after coworking company acquires EMU building

Officials and residents of Ypsilanti hope that MI-HQThe recent acquisition by Gary Owens College of Business Building from the former Eastern Michigan University (EMU) will bring great benefits to their community.

MI-HQ, a coworking company located on the west side of Ann Arbor, announced the agreement to purchase the building at 300 W. Michigan Ave. to Ypsi for $2.6 million in mid-June. MI-HQ plans to totally renovate the 130,000 square foot building into a co-working space for STEM companies.

MI-HQ Chairman Mark Smith said the deal will be finalized after meetings with the Historic District Commission and the city’s planning commission, as the property has not been zoned for some of the uses that MI-HQ intends to offer.
MI-HQ President Mark Smith.
“There are a lot of good things happening in Ypsilanti, and we want to be part of it and contribute to it,” says Smith.

Part of those “good things” is a downtown revitalization, including filling in once-vacant storefronts. Ypsilanti economic development manager Joe Meyers says when he came on board in 2015, there was a vacancy rate of around 40% downtown.

“Now you might see empty storefronts, but some of them are actually already rented out,” he says. “There are only two for rent right now. It makes us happy to see it grow. COVID has had a big impact, but to see us slowly recover and to see the reinvestment of people like the [owners of the] Thompson Block, Bellflower, MI-HQ and more are super exciting.”

An anchor point in the city center

EMU Vice President for Communications Walter Kraft said the location of EMU’s college of business downtown 30 years ago was a strategic move by the university to integrate the college to the city’s main business district. He will now move into the renovated Boone Hall on the EMU campus.

“When we first installed it in the city, it made a lot of sense and was a great installation for a long time,” Kraft says. “But over time, it became clear that the wish of the students was to bring the college of commerce back to the main campus.”

Meyers says the building was never the downtown anchor that it could have been, and its main entrance was not even clear to passers-by. The building faces Michigan Avenue, but entrances were at Hamilton and Adams on either side.
Walter Kraft, EMU Vice President for Communications.
“It was like a fortress and it was all about the inner courtyard, so it was never the downtown anchor that we wanted,” Meyers said. “Now, with MI-HQ’s plans to open it to the street, we’re thrilled it’s the flagship downtown tenant we’ve always wanted.”

The renovation will include the creation or renovation of medical offices, wet research and development laboratories, a 160-person auditorium for use by tenants and the public, a food truck, a cafe, a sports hall and a courtyard open to the public.

Smith says the building is already logically laid out for wet labs and other uses planned by the company.

“The rooms are just the right size to convert without too many heavy lifting,” he says.

The concept plan for the renovation will also create “a real gateway” to Michigan Avenue, Meyers said.

“There will be a direct stairway to Michigan Avenue and outdoor seating, showing they are part of downtown,” Meyers said. “They’re really going to make it a phenomenal downtown asset.”

A catalyst for growth

Besides being an anchor, MI-HQ and the community hope that MI-HQ will stimulate growth. The building is expected to open in the first quarter of 2023 and create around 300 jobs.

Meyers says downtown Ypsilanti has a “strong nighttime presence” but businesses could use more foot traffic during the day.

“I really hope [MI-HQ employees] will help support downtown businesses during the day,” said Ypsilanti Mayor Lois Richardson. Support for local businesses is good in the evenings, but still too light at lunchtime for downtown restaurants like Bobcat Bonnie’s to offer lunch, she says.

“With Haab [restaurant] closing, it would be nice to have a flow of pedestrians downtown and maybe see Bonnie’s and others open earlier in the day,” says Richardson.
Lois Richardson, Mayor of Ypsilanti.
The agreement also puts the building on the city’s tax rolls for the first time. Meyers says the property was on the tax rolls before the college was built there. But for the last 30 years, it was untaxed university property.

“All eligible taxes will be available to the city for the first time ever,” Richardson said. “It’s estimated to be over $1 million over the next 10 years, and that would be fantastic for the city.”

The building is located in an area that the federal government designates as Opportunity Zone. This economic development tool encourages businesses to invest in economically disadvantaged areas of the United States to stimulate local growth. Businesses are rewarded with tax benefits, including the ability to invest in a qualified opportunity fund and to defer taxes on qualifying gains from area properties.

Smith says MI-HQ generated a lot of interest in the new location before the deal officially closed.

“We are already getting many calls from companies wanting to locate there because they like the building, the location and the fact that it is in an area of ​​opportunity,” Smith says. “We’re not ready yet, but we hope to announce our anchor tenants soon. We believe this will create new buzz and hopefully be a catalyst for even more growth in the area.”

More information about MI-HQ is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and project manager of On the Ypsilanti field. She joined Concentrate as a news editor in early 2017 and occasionally contributes to other Broadcast Media Group editions. You can reach her at [email protected].

All pictures of Doug Combe.

David H. Henry